“I want to go agile: how do I start?” Find out in this episode of The Best Project Portfolio Management Show by Appfire.

Andrea Fryrear of AgileSherpas joins Appfire’s own Kerry O’Shea Gorgone to talk about how you can get started with agile project management at your organization (and why it’s worth the effort).

About the guest

Andrea Fryrear is co-founder of AgileSherpas and a leading global authority on agile marketing. She is co-author of the ICAgile Certified Professional in Agile Marketing curriculum, and the author of two books on marketing agility, including “Mastering Marketing Agility: Transform Your Marketing Teams and Evolve Your Organization.”

About the show

The BEST Project Portfolio Management Show by Appfire covers everything you ever wanted to know about PPM by talking with project management experts who’ve seen it all. And every episode is 10 minutes or less, so you can get back to changing the world, one project at a time.


For your convenience, here is the transcript of this episode:

I want to go agile. How do I start?

Kerry:  I’m joined today by Andrea Fryrear. I am so excited. She’s co-founder of Agile Sherpas and a leading global authority on agile marketing. Andrea is the author of two books on marketing agility, including Mastering Marketing Agility. We’re going to talk about how to get started in agile marketing. If you have questions about that, don’t go anywhere. 

Thanks for being here, Andrea. Let’s just dive right in. I want to go agile. How do I start?

Andrea:  I think the best way to start is to not get hung up on processes or frameworks, which might be kind of counterintuitive to say when we’re talking about agility. I think the biggest benefits of agile are really that it forces us to focus and creates better ways of managing our work by getting it out in the open. 

First and foremost, understanding that that’s really where the power of agile lies and not in Scrum on Kanban or the more technical aspects of it. It’s just about getting your work out where you can see it and then focusing in on the most important stuff until it’s done and not trying to do 28 top priority projects at the same time.

Kerry:  Let’s say you have a really big organization, like an enterprise organization with 1,000 employees. How do you eat that elephant if you want to go agile? 

Andrea:  You eat it one board at a time or one visualization at a time. Figuring out who needs to work together to deliver value to your customer, and then bring them together and get them to put all of their collective work out in the open. 

Then almost instantly, if you do that with some kind of leadership in the room, what the leaders realize is, “Oh wow, these people are doing a bunch of stuff that seemed really important when they started doing it or when somebody asked them to do it, but it’s not actually aligned to our bigger goals. So, stop doing that stuff and do this stuff that’s really going to add value.”

A lot of this stuff is happening in inboxes or in Zoom meetings or Slack channels right now that nobody sees. It’s that power of visibility first and then the ability that gives us to start to prioritize the work once we see it. Once all teams are doing that in an enterprise, then the leaders can start to get together, look at them all as a whole, and start winnowing down to the really important stuff. 

Then the benefits really start to snowball because lots of people are doing value-added work, and it just really starts getting value out to the customer sooner.

Kerry:  People can and frequently do ignore organizational change as long as they can, though. How do you successfully get people to adopt agile practices and put their work out there where people can see it?

Andrea:  There’s almost always that tipping point where the pain of changing is less than the pain of staying all of a sudden. I’ve had clients where that comes from an employee engagement survey where people are overworked and overwhelmed, and you know that you’re going to be seeing a lot of churn if you don’t make a change to how people work. 

Sometimes the entire organization is required to go agile; we are losing the market, we’re falling behind in innovation, agile ways of working are the agreed-upon solution, and everybody has to figure it out, but there are a lot of burning platform kinds of moments. It’s best not to wait for that. Change before the change is thrust upon you, and then it’s a bit more pleasant to deal with.

Kerry:  In my experience, people respond better to sugar than vinegar. Or they say honey than vinegar. How do you sell them on the benefits of doing this, the effort that it takes to go agile, why is it worth it? 

Andrea:  That’s a great question. From an individual contributor’s perspective, agile will save your sanity and keep you from being constantly bombarded with emails, instant messages, and texts at all hours of the day, which in our hybrid distributed world is so easy to just be always on and feel like you never get to stop working. Agile is really about sustainable pace and empowered individuals, so it can really be a lifeline to people that feel like they’re underwater in their job. 

From a leadership perspective, it really is value to your customers faster and more efficiently—less waste. Less we had to do 25 rounds of revision on this landing page, and now it’s five weeks late. Less and less of that, and more of what is really going to move the needle and getting people focused and pulling together in that direction. 

Then there are all kinds of bigger benefits to the organization as a whole where you’re getting engaged, collaborative, cross-functional groups of people focused on the real big meaty problems that are going to give you that sustainable advantage over the long term instead of constantly fighting whatever fire popped up that day.

Kerry:  How do you retrain people? In my experience, anyway, once people know who can fix a typo on the website, they just go to that person and they ignore any kind of systems. How do you retrain them? 

Andrea:  That’s a great question, too. We’re back now to visibility like we talked about at first. Once everybody has visibility into their work when you come to me and say, “Andrea, can you fix this type on the webpage,” I now have the ability to say, “Absolutely, I can help you with that. Here are the 25 things that are already on my plate for the next two weeks. Where does that fall in this priority list?” Chances are it’s going to be way down here at the bottom, which is fine. 

Kerry:  Unless it’s really bad. 

Andrea:  But I’m not saying no. What I’m saying is I’m not going to drop everything I’m doing to do this thing for you, and you can see why. I’m not a bad colleague. I’m not a jerk. I have important work that I need to focus on. It feels minor, it feels like I’ll just do it real quick, but our brains can’t jump instantly between tasks. We are super bad at that as humans. 

It compounds. When I did that one thing for you, and this one thing for that guy, and this one thing for that person throughout my day, I’m spending way more time jumping between tasks than I am actually focused on work. When we think about that happening across teams, across departments, across organizations, it creates this huge amount of switching costs that are really problematic. 

Coming back to your original question, the visibility of what’s important. Then also, this idea of cross-functional teams that are there to deliver value. Yes, maybe I know how to fix the typo, and you don’t, but our team will be more efficient if both of us know, so let’s both pause and let me teach you so that next time you don’t have to ask me. Now we’ll both go faster later on. But we had to agree that it is a valuable way to work, and we had to both agree to sit down and make a change to our behaviors to get there. 

So, there’s a lot of talk about agile values, and that’s that foundational it’s good for us to work together, it’s good to understand priorities, it’s good to communicate. Those kinds of shared values make all of that possible.

Kerry:  Let’s talk tools. I am with Appfire, and we have many tools (including BigPicture) for project management. There’s just a whole panoply of options, though, for people who are getting into agile just to start out. Let’s talk about some of them.

Andrea:  Yes. I used to always say just start with sticky notes on a wall, which worked when we were all in the same room together as a starting point, but not as much now when we’re all distributed. If you’re doing it just for yourself, which is honestly how I built my first board was just for my own personal work, you could get away with sticky notes on your window or your wall to just get it out in the open.

There are tons of really easy to use tools now like Trello, Miro, and Mural that are very analogous to stickies on a wall even if you’re going to upgrade to something big that’s going to give you that larger portfolio view, which is super important as more and more teams come online, to be able to see that integrated view. Just to get started, don’t do anything heavy because you’re going to get it wrong. The first time you try to get it all out in the open, you won’t get it right. You’re going to want to be able to fiddle with it in a way that doesn’t break everything, so something as close to stickies as you can get. 

Do it for yourself, then do it with a team. Then you can keep growing. One team does it, and then the teams they work with do it, and it can keep growing organically as far as you can push it. Eventually, you’ll hit a wall, and you’re probably going to have to bring in a coach or somebody to negotiate that, but you can get pretty far a lot of times before you hit that wall.

Kerry:  At Appfire, we have whiteboards, and it will actually connect right up to your Jira and update issues and stuff. 

Andrea:  Oh, nice. 

Kerry:  If I’m listening to you correctly, you should do some that aren’t connected up first so that if you mess up, you’re not changing things in Jira for everybody. 

Andrea:  Exactly. Yes. Low-risk experiment first. 

Kerry:  That makes a lot of sense. Andrea, thanks so much for joining us. 

AgileSherpas.com if you want to learn more from her. 

Last updated: 2023-01-24

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